Identification Key for Sinningia Plants

In this key, we assume that the plant has already been identified as a member of the Sinningia tribe of the gesneriad family.  Mostly, we will assume that the plant has flowered, since the juvenile (pre-flowering-age) plants of many sinningias resemble one another more than they resemble the mature (flowering) plants.  For instance, young plants of S. leucotricha give little hint of the fuzzy beauties to come.

However, foliage and habit information will be used whenever possible, in case your flowering-age plants are like mine and [snifffff] don't wish to flower this year.  Fortunately, paliavanas and vanhoutteas, which hold back their flowers until they get a proposal involving diamonds and real estate, don't have a distinct juvenile stage, and so give some recognizable signs of their identity even without flowers.

The key is a long way from being complete.  Especially when it involves distinctions among species I'm not currently growing, I just put links to the corresponding pages, and hope that narrowing down the possible number of species has helped to some extent.

Okay, let's get going.  Dig into the soil and find out whether the plant has a tuber.


Tubers

  1. If the plant does not have a tuber, it is one of the tuberless members of the Sinningia tribe.
  2. If the plant has a tuber, it is a regular sinningia species.

Plants with Tubers

  1. If the plant is a miniature, with alternating pairs of leaves on a very short, compressed stem, click here.
  2. If the plant has leafstalks and/or flowerstalks appearing to emerge directly from the tuber, with no obvious stem visible, click here.
  3. If the plant has a well-defined, upright or trailing stem, and is not one of the types described above, click here.

Plants with tubers and well-defined Stems

As used here, a galea is an overhanging upper lip of the corolla formed by the upper two corolla lobes joined for most of their length, and at least 1.5 cm long.  An example should clarify the definition.  If the two corolla lobes protrude, but overlap rather than being a single fused structure, it is not (in the present definition) a galea.  For example, by this definition, Sinningia araneosa does not have a galea, since its overhanging upper lip is formed by two overlapping but separate corolla lobes.  The rule is: if there is doubt about whether a flower has a galea, it doesn't.

As used here, campanulate means having a very definite, inflated bell shape.  The flower width will be more than half the length.  In the flower comparison picture, Sinningia conspicua is the only campanulate flower.  In particular, Sinningia guttata is not, despite the inflated part in the middle of the tube.  The rule is: if there is doubt about whether a flower is campanulate, it isn't.

To use the decision table below, you will need to know the inflorescence type.

  Flower shape: Campanulate Flower shape: Tubular,
with Galea
Flower shape: Tubular,
no Galea
Inflorescence type: Multiple flowers on axillary cymes, with peduncle (none) Sinningia cooperi Sinningia reitzii
Inflorescence type: One or more flowers in leaf axils; if more than one per axil, on axillary cymes without peduncle A few species, such as S. eumorpha, click here Sinningia glazioviana Many species, click here
Inflorescence type: Flowers in terminal cluster (none) Sinningia hatschbachii A few species, such as S. leucotricha, click here
Inflorescence type: Flowers on terminal peduncle S. aghensis or S. sp. "Ibitioca", click here S. micans or S. iarae, click here Several species, such as S. insularis, click here
Inflorescence type: Flowers on extended axis (none) S. cardinalis, S. magnifica, or S. bulbosa, click here Many species, mostly tall, click here

Campanulate flowers in leaf axils

  1. If the distance between the leaf nodes is an inch [2.5 cm] or more, so that the plant has a well-defined erect stem at least 4 inches [10 cm] long, click here.
  2. If the plant has a very compressed stem, with opposite leaves close together, so that the flowering stem is less than 4 inches [10 cm] long, it is S. speciosa or S. macrophylla, click here.

Campanulate flowers on erect stems

  1. If the calyx is almost flat and star-shaped when the flower is open, the plant is probably S. eumorpha or S. conspicua, click here.
  2. If the calyx completely encloses the developing flowerbud, and is leaflike, and does not open into a star shape, the plant is probably Sinningia barbata.

Campanulate flowers with star-shaped calyxes

  1. If the leaves are glossy, and the flower is white or pale lavender, with or without yellow in the throat, with or without purple markings in the throat, and the flower is not scented, the plant is Sinningia eumorpha.
  2. If the leaves are not glossy, and the flower is cream or pale yellow, and is scented, the plant is Sinningia conspicua.

Campanulate flowers on compressed stems

  1. Sinningia speciosa
  2. Sinningia macrophylla

Campanulate flowers on terminal peduncles

  1. If the leaves are dark, with some red on the reverse, and the peduncle is at least 20 cm high, and there is a white patch in the corolla throat with purple spots, the plant is Sinningia aghensis
  2. If the leaves are plain green, and the peduncle is no more than 20 cm tall, and the flowers are mostly purple, the plant is Sinningia sp. "Ibitioca"

Galeate flowers on terminal peduncles

  1. If the flowers are dusky red or pink, and are at least 6 cm long, the plant is Sinningia iarae.
  2. If the calyx is dark red and completely encloses the corolla in bud, the plant is Sinningia micans.

Galeate flowers on extended axis

  1. If the plant bears small flowers at the top of an erect stem, it is S. bulbosa.
  2. If the flowers are bright red and 7cm [almost 3 inches] long, the plant is Sinningia cardinalis
  3. If the plant normally blooms in autumn, and bears flowers at the top of an erect or sprawling stem at least twelve inches [25 cm] tall, with flowers at least 1.5 inches [4 cm] long, it is Sinningia magnifica.

Tubular flowers in terminal cluster

  1. If the flower tube has dark streaks on the outside and on the corolla lobes, click here
  2. If the plant does not have streaked flowers, but has white hairs covering the leaves, giving the leaves a silvery appearance, especially when the leaves are small, click here
  3. If the blooming plant has at most four leaves, which do not have conspicuous hairs, and the flowers are orange or red without streaks, the plant is Sinningia calcaria
  4. Sinningia leopoldii

Silvery leaves

Number and arrangement of mature leaves is not a reliable way to distinguish these two species, at least in cultivation, since there are several forms of S. leucotricha around, including one with an extra tier of flowers.

  1. If the new leaves on a stem just emerging from the tuber lie flat, the plant is Sinningia leucotricha.
  2. If the new leaves on a stem just emerging from the tuber are almost vertical, and enclose the young flowerstalk like the two halves of an oyster shell, the plant is Sinningia canescens.

Streaked tubular flowers in terminal cluster

  1. If the leaves, especially when small, have a silver appearance due to white hairs covering the leaves, it is Sinningia piresiana
  2. If the leaves have a glossy appearance reminiscent of S. eumorpha, it is Sinningia ramboi

Tubular flowers on terminal peduncle

  1. If the flowers are reddish coral or pink, with dark streaks on the outside of the corolla and on the corolla lobes, click here.
  2. If the plant has very stiff but flexible leaves on short petioles, and narrow tubular flowers about an inch [2.5 cm] long, which are orange or red both inside and outside the tube, click here.
  3. If the plant has large, plain green, almost circular leaves (usually just two pairs of them), it is Sinningia lineata
  4. If the outside of the flower tube is pale red, and the corolla lobes are intense red, the plant is Sinningia warmingii.
  5. If the plant has a thin stem and small (less than 4 cm long) leaves, and small red flowers with red spots on yellow on the corolla lobes, it is Sinningia nordestina.

Streaked tubular flowers on terminal peduncle

  1. If the plant has glossy leaves in two whorls of three that are so close together they almost look like a whorl of six, the plant is Sinningia douglasii
  2. If the plant has hairy dark-green leaves with a matte appearance which do not look like whorls of six, it is Sinningia rupicola.

Stiff leaves, with tubular flowers on terminal peduncle

Sinningia macrostachya and Sinningia insularis are most easily distinguished by the fruits.  S. insularis fruits can be seen by following the link below, while an S. macrostachya fruit can be seen here.

  1. If the plant has a simple tuber, and the peduncle ends in two-three bracts from which the flowers emerge on short pedicels, the plant is Sinningia insularis.
  2. If the plant has a gnarled stem base above the tuber, and smooth brown stems, and no bracts on the peduncle, it is Sinningia macrostachya.

Tubular flowers in axillary cymes

  1. If the leaves are hairy and at least slightly sticky, and the tubular flowers are yellow, orange, or red, click here.
  2. If the leaves are glossy green, and the calyxes are leafy green and extend at least halfway along the corolla, click here.
  3. If the leaves are dark green and hairy, with some red on the reverse, and the small white flowers have purple spots in the throat, the plant is Sinningia hirsuta
  4. If the plant has plain green leaves in whorls of three, and small tubular orange or red flowers from axils near the top of the stem, it is Sinningia mauroana
  5. If the plant has dark green leaves with some red on the reverse, borne on erect stems which persist from year to year, and the magenta flowers usually occur one per axil, but if more, the inflorescence does not have a peduncle, the plant is Sinningia sp. "Black Hill"

Sticky leaves, tubular flowers in axillary cymes

  1. Sinningia aggregata
  2. Sinningia amambayensis
  3. If the first flower from any given axil has a petiole which curves down below the leaf, so that the orange flower is held more or less parallel to the ground beneath the leaf, the plant is Sinningia carangolensis.

Leafy calyxes, tubular flowers in axillary cymes

  1. If the plant has white flowers with purple dots on the interior of the tube and on the corolla lobes, and if the flowers and are borne in the axils on pedicels which bend toward the light so that most of the flowers face the same direction, it is Sinningia guttata
  2. If the plant has white flowers with purple lines on the interior of the tube but not on the corolla lobes, it is Sinningia lindleyi

Tubular flowers on extended axis

  1. If the plant is tall with erect stems bearing lots of red tubular flowers which are held out perpendicular to the stem, and the stems die back all the way to the tuber at the end of the growing season, click here
  2. If the plant is a medium height (up to 70 cm), and the inflorescence arches instead of growing straight up, and the leaves are plain green, hairy, and possibly sticky, click here.
  3. If the plant has bent or twisted stems which elongate from year to year, one or two nodes at a time, because the stem doesn't die back all the way to the base at the end of the growing season, click here.
  4. If the plant has a tall inflorescence with long (7 cm or longer) white flowers which are fragrant, it is Sinningia tubiflora.
  5. If the plant has a tall arching inflorescence and the flowers hang straight down, the plant is Sinningia sellovii.
  6. If the plant has green fuzzy leaves, and the flowers have dark streaks on the exterior of the corolla and on the corolla lobes, it is Sinningia polyantha
  7. If none of the above match, it may be Sinningia sulcata, which is supposed to have yellow flowers.

Tall plants with many tubular red flowers

  1. Sinningia sceptrum
  2. Sinningia incarnata
  3. If the flowers are at least 3 cm long, and have a galea-like hood, and are well spaced along the stem, with each flower single in the axil of a bract, the plant is Sinningia elatior.
  4. If the flowers are more than 1 cm long, but less than 2 cm long, the plant is Sinningia allagophylla.
  5. If the flowers are only about 1 cm long, the plant is Sinningia curtiflora.

Twisted, gradually elongating stems, tubular flowers on extended axis

  1. If the inflorescence is dense, and its stem is not very dark, the plant is Sinningia cochlearis
  2. If the inflorescence is elongated, with the pedicels well spaced, and the flowering stem is very dark, the plant is Sinningia gigantifolia

Medium height plants with tubular flowers on extended axis

  1. If the flowers are pink and yellow, and the dark green leaves are about three times as long as they are wide, the plant is Sinningia brasiliensis.
  2. If the flowers are red, and the leaves are plain green, and the leaf length:width ratio is less than 3:1, the plant is Sinningia araneosa or Sinningia valsuganensis

Miniature plants with little or no stem

To distinguish more precisely between these three species, see the comparison table.

  1. If the plant has heart-shaped leaves and spotted flowers, it is Sinningia concinna
  2. If the plant has spearpoint-shaped leaves and unspotted lavender or white flowers with a spur, it is Sinningia pusilla
  3. If the plant has serrated spearpoint-shaped leaves and unspotted lavender flowers without a spur, it is Sinningia muscicola ("Rio das Pedras")

Sinningias with stalks emerging directly from tuber

  1. If the plant has green leaves with essentially no petioles, the leaf blade appearing to emerge directly from the tuber, it is Sinningia defoliata
  2. If the plant has single leaves on what appear to be long wiry petioles (but are really stems), and the red flowers are borne on peduncles emerging directly from the tuber, it is Sinningia helioana ("Santa Teresa").
  3. If the plant has a pair of leaves (one of which may be much smaller than the other) on stalks emerging from the tuber, and the orange flowers are borne in the axils of those leaves, it is Sinningia calcaria.
  4. If it's not one of these, it must be Sinningia tuberosa, about which I know next to nothing.

Sinningia tribe members with no tuber

The key for most of the following is adapted from Chautems's 2002 paper on the Sinningieae of Minas Gerais.

  1. If the tuberless plant has white flowers with purple spots or streaks, click here.
  2. If the tuberless plant has a square stem and pure white "slipper" flowers with shiny green leaves, it is Sinningia barbata.
  3. If the flower is bell-shaped, and flower color is greenish or purple, the plant is a paliavana
  4. If the flower is tubular, and flower color is red, orange, or pink, the plant is a vanhouttea.

Sinningias without tubers

  1. If the plant has tall stems becoming bare with age (and has white flowers with purple spots, not stripes, with the limbs pure white), it is Sinningia schiffneri.
  2. If the plant is shrubby with abundant branching (and has white flowers with purple stripes, not spots, with the stripes extending out to the corolla lobes), it is Sinningia gerdtiana.

Paliavana

The paliavana key requires that one see the flowers.  I must however observe that I have grown several of these paliavana species and only one has flowered.  I attribute this to brazilium deficiency.

  1. If the plant has a tall, mostly bare stem, with a small clump of sticky leaves at the top, it is Paliavana plumerioides.
  2. If the corolla (flower tube) is purple, click here.
  3. If the corolla is green or yellowish, click here.

Paliavanas with purple flowers

The easiest way to distinguish these two species is by the flowerbud.  The valvate calyx of Paliavana tenuiflora completely encloses the flowerbud until the bud is quite large (there is a picture on the P. tenuiflora page).

  1. If the calyx lobes are thin and needle-shaped, and not conjoined in bud, the plant is Paliavana gracilis.
  2. If the calyx lobes are narrow but flat and spear-shaped, and they are conjoined in bud, the plant is Paliavana tenuiflora.

Paliavanas with green or yellowish flowers

  1. If the flowers are greenish, and the plant has leaves 10-20 cm long, it is Paliavana prasinata.
  2. If the flowers are yellowish, and the plant has leaves 4-8 cm long, and the calyx lobes are pointed and green, the plant is Paliavana werdermannii.
  3. If the flowers are yellowish, and the plant has leaves 4-8 cm long, and the calyx lobes are blunt (usually purplish and bent backward), the plant is Paliavana sericiflora.

Vanhouttea

  1. If the plant is a low shrub (10-30 cm tall), it is Vanhouttea fruticulosa.
  2. If the flowerbud has a calyx with its sepal tips connected (the way V. lanata does), click here.
  3. If the flowerbud's sepal tips are not connected, click here.

Vanhoutteas with free sepals in bud

  1. If the flower is about an inch [2.5 cm] long with triangular sepals, the plant is Vanhouttea leonii.
  2. If the flower is about 1.5 inches [4 cm] long with spear-shaped ("lanceolate") sepals, the plant is Vanhouttea hilariana.
  3. If the flowers hang straight down, and are about 2 inches [5 cm] long, and the calyx lobes are much longer than they are wide, the plant is Vanhouttea pendula.

Vanhoutteas with joined sepals in bud

  1. If the flowerbuds and young stems are covered with dense silvery hairs, the plant is Vanhouttea lanata.
  2. If the underside of the leaf and the calyx lobes are smooth and mostly hairless, the plant is Vanhouttea gardneri.
  3. If the underside of the leaf and the calyx lobes are covered with fine hairs, then